In February, the Memphis Grizzlies visited Barclays Center with All-Star break around the corner. Grizzlies coach David Fizdale instructed his players to pretend they were down 3-2 in a playoff series -- they needed to beat the Brooklyn Nets to force "Game 7," which would be at home against the New Orleans Pelicans two nights later.
Memphis earned a 112-103 victory. Forward Chandler Parsons, on his third team, said he had never seen a motivational technique quite like that.
"Obviously everyone's looking forward to the break," Parsons said. "But he's making sure that we're staying grounded, staying humble. He basically put us in a mental test."
This anecdote was meant to be used in a broader Fizdale story that never materialized. In light of the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs, before the press conference, before their 5-1 start this season, before the eight-game losing streak and between Fizdale and center Marc Gasol.on Monday, though, it's worth looking back at what the players told CBS Sports about him. The quotes are from nine months ago, before they challenged the
Parsons, who chose Memphis in free agency partially because of Fizdale, said he appreciated the way the coach would arrange off-day activities and bring in guests to talk to the team. He said Fizdale "hits on a whole bunch of areas that I don't think none of us have really paid attention to in our career," in terms communication and mindset.
"When I first met him, he's wearing a Wu-Tang T-shirt and jeans," Parsons said. "I'm just like, this is my head coach. Like, it's kind of crazy. He's so young. He's just an awesome dude that we all respect and we all like and we want to rally around and we want to win for him."
If you have heard Fizdale talk about a topic he cares about, it is not difficult to imagine him giving a spirited speech in a locker room. Before he coached a game for the Grizzlies, he spent two months focused on a message of "culture and trust," Gasol told ESPN. When he said the referees were "not gonna rook us" in the playoffs, guard Mike Conley texted him at 4 a.m. to thank him and insisted that the .
"He's just real," Parsons said. "He's such a realist. He calls it how he sees it. There's no sugarcoating with him. He's got this aura and this attitude that he's young and he's cool and he knows how to relate to players, but without going nuts, without screaming, without degrading players. He has a way of getting his message across, and I think the way he delivers everything is key."
Conley got used to hearing, "Mike, you need to be the best player on the court to win tonight." The same message was routinely delivered to Gasol, encouraging him to be aggressive. He wanted the Grizzlies to start games with physicality, sometimes asking the guards to pick up their men full-court or as soon as they passed halfcourt in order to set the tone. Conley said it was never hard to take his criticism because "he's only doing it because he wants the best for you" and he does not hold grudges.
"His personality is one of those that it's hard to dislike a guy like that," Conley said. "He's constantly preaching service and trying to help other people and wanting to see the next guy succeed. When you have that kind of a leader, it's easier for your team to follow. It's easy to want to jump on board and do whatever he asks you to do because you know he's on the other end trying to make sure that you are in the best position that you can be in."
Fizdale made it a point of emphasis to go to dinner with the players and their families. "My wife knows his wife, and it's like that with a lot of the players," Conley said, adding that Fizdale is always thinking of the next team get-together.
Ex-Grizzlies swingman Vince Carter said Fizdale was "very upfront and forward with everyone as far as what he expects of us," then went on to praise him for how he implemented his system. To the veteran, the most important thing for a new coach is to get players "to buy in as quickly as possible." Fizdale's job was to overhaul Memphis' style of play -- if he was going to be successful, he needed everybody to believe in him.
"He just wants to win, and his approach is all about winning, period," Carter said. "He's been to the mountaintop, so he understands what it takes as a coach to put us in the position to win. He's all about making it as easy as possible for players, whatever that entails."
Carter tweeted his displeasure shortly after Fizdale's shocking firing was announced. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who played for him in Miami, both Judging by how some of the Grizzlies players raved about him in the not-too-distant past, it is fair to assume there are people in their locker room who feel the same way.
"He's a friend, too," Parsons said. "At the end of the day, you want to play good for him because you love him. You have a personal relationship with him outside of basketball. Not only is he a great coach, but just a great person, fun to be around, and he understands everything that we're going through off the court and he understands the positions that we need to be in to succeed on the court."